Horror movie sequels are a dime a dozen, but if we’re honest with ourselves, most range from shit to horse shit.
The 80s and 90s were littered with sequel movies conjured up by coke-ridden executives (nature’s ChatGPT) trying their hardest to shoehorn an established IP into updated pop culture trends. That’s how we ended up with Jason X, Alien vs Predator and Jaws 3D.
The Exorcist series is no stranger to this either. After an abysmal sequel with The Exorcist 2: The Heretic (aka Pazuzu: Electric Boogaloo), it would have been easy to assume the Exorcist series was dead and buried for good. That was until the original screenplay writer, William Peter Blatty, released his New York Times Best Seller Legion in 1983, and talks of a movie adaptation started.
So, what is The Exorcist III about, and why do film nerds cream their jeans when talking about it?
The Exorcist III came out in 1990 and follows William F. Kinderman, played by legendary actor George C. Scott. Kinderman is a recurring character from the first Exorcist film who only had a minor role. Kinderman is in charge of investigating a string of murders being done by the alleged “Gemini Killer”, a serial killer who was put to death 15 years prior. These murders lead him to find old Father Karras, the priest who threw himself out the window at the end of the original Exorcist, alive and claiming to be the Gemini Killer.
The film was released to mixed reviews but eventually made more than four times its budget. The mixed reviews cite a few things: the ending of the film is a bit of a mess due to studio interference, and the dialogue doesn’t feel organic, almost as though it’s been lifted straight out of a novel. The movie also has a surreal fever dream tone to it. It’s cold, clinical, and slow. I personally love it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Some would agree, The Exorcist III is interesting compared to other horror movies being released because it wasn’t a particularly gory film. Nearly all of the violence in the movie is visually implied or clinically described. It’s also a slow burn for better or for worse.
The Exorcist III explores similar themes to the first film. Much like Chris MacNeil in the first movie, who does everything she scientifically can to save her daughter, she learns she has to place her faith in something else she can’t control. Kinderman is similar, after trying everything he can through his years of police work, he struggles to rationalise and find conclusions to the Gemini Killer that make sense for him. These realisations break him, making him realise the world is cruel and that he only believes in “death, injustice and disease”. Which is the average experience of someone who uses dating apps for longer than six months.
But let’s talk about the murders and the Gemini Killer, because he’s the most interesting character in the film. In short, Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer has one of the best performances in a movie ever. Every moment he’s on screen, it’s like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, you just want the movie to be this dude talking the whole time. Every line oozes charisma, and evil and it’s just so unsettling. His voice is also strangely modulated throughout the scene, getting randomly deeper and higher, so you’re always aware of the supernatural presence.
The villain in an Exorcist movie has to be a demon creating chaos for an entire group of people, except in this film, the demon possesses damn near everything except young children, because doing that again would be unoriginal and cheapen what made the first film special, right?
A great example of this is what The Exorcist III is most known for – the jump scare scene. I know, jump scares are normally lauded for being cheap and lazy ways to scare an audience. Believe me when I say that The Exorcist III might just be the best example of it done right.
The entire scene follows a nurse working in the hospital at night, with only a single security guard accompanying her. The scene starts with her hearing this clinking sound, reminiscent of the bone scissors we’ve been told is the murder weapon of the Gemini Killer. You hear this awful sound piercing loudly over the ambient drone of the scene as she investigates.
It is bar none, one of the best uses of tension in a film I’ve seen before and it definitely sticks with you.
The only downside of the film is its ending is a bit weak and way too campy for what the film was going for. Without too many spoilers, it was almost like the film suddenly remembered it needed an exorcism somewhere in the Exorcist movie, and shoehorned this one priest into the film as though he was a Jedi getting ready to fight Darth Vader. Which is deeply funny to me and makes me laugh every time, but it absolutely doesn’t match the tone.
There are also some bizarre moments of early CGI in this film that feature an elderly lady running around the roof like a spider and a moment where someone’s head awkwardly gets yanked away from the bone cutters and it looks like it’s straight out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
But I digress, I could go on about this film because there’s so much to unpack. From George C. Scott’s amazing performance, the surprise cameos of Larry David, Samuel L Jackson, and Fabio Lanzoni for some reason, to the many interpretations of this film you could have.
If I’ve sold you on why The Exorcist III is one of the greatest horror films of all time, you can watch it for free online at PEDESTRIAN TELEVISION, alongside other great cult television, movies and original content.
Image Credit: The Exorcist III / Warner Bros